You could look down through the railings into scattered pits of darkness and light. Booths growing out of sensuous leather seats, sparingly lit by sconces that hovered low to the tables, highlighting here and there a hand, or the plans down one side of a person’s face, throwing the rest into dark relief. Eyes and mouths glittered – each in their own way.
I was on the stairs between worlds, the pits below and the pits above. Music drowned out feeling amongs these people I hardly knew.
They had shed the office and now leaned close, or leaned back, with the suavity of spies and the smell of beer and spirits. I was warm from the smoke rising from my own glass. Wandering between the bars, the staircases, was a compulsion; for the half-seen sights in the shadows were fascinating to pass between, and tired as my feet the darkness had not lifted to show an empty seat. I sipped, and forgot what words I had spoken to whom, and drifted.
His head tilted towards a sconce so that I could see both eyes fixed on me, and that was where I stopped, a few moments delayed before it sank in. I sipped and looked at him through the omnipresent railings, the wood rich in the dimness. I knew him and did not know him, the way one knew a face from television or from the hallway near the ladies’ washroom.
With a nod that was of the eyes than of the head, or shoulders, he showed me the place I could not see, the unoccupied shadows at his side. I left the staircase, and it was like leaving a friend with whom you had gone a long way, yet without growing to really know them. The yearning for whatever they really were was still there.
I smiled at him, already at his table, and he did not look at me, not properly. A glance before I sat, the leather impossibly warm beneath me.
There were two other men at the table, and all three were talking, collars open and ties loose. But without making out the words I could taste the way they wrapped up their banter, so that the two across from us slowly turned to each other, and the one who had stared at me, his dark head and dark eyes familiar in a pale, rectangular face, both did and did not turn my way.
In the closeness of the booth our legs touched from hip to calf. And I asked him a question or two, ones that did not matter. A void ensued in which all I could smell was my glass, and then, like stars pricking through a night sky, the disappearance of the two men across from us woke me.
The man beside me closed in and I spent delicious long minutes in a cocoon, with him above and the warm, warm leather below.
When his mouth and hands and weight broke away, abruptly, I felt the obscene gap between my lips. He was out of the booth somehow, past me, back to me, speaking with several indistinct figure, casually looking back over his shoulder. There was laughter. Together, they floated away.
To be disaffected was to be enveloped in the pounding music. Disappointment, humiliation, rage – they flowed out in sparks, whiskey drowning the sconce.
At my desk tomorrow I would have forgotten.